Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"A Walker in the City"


Recently I made my yearly winter pilgrimage to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. I was invited to read at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, on the weekend of a major snowstorm. But like any toughened Somervillian it takes a lot of snow to dissuade me from my God-given path. Things for me were a lot different from when I last visited. “The Recession” had settled in like an old piece of furniture, I was laid off from my job of 27 years at McLean Hospital, and I had started to teach at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. I was decidedly on a new road, and as a friend of mine said: (the novelist Paul Stone) “You are on a spiritual journey.” Well I hope I can use the journey as a tax write off.

The Chelsea Hotel has always been a great comfort to me. I always get a small, inexpensive room, a bathroom down the hall affair. It is like the Spartan furnished room I lived in the Back Bay of Boston in the 70’s. There is a lot of character to this hotel, but few amenities in comparison to other hotels in the Big Apple. At the check in desk I noticed a great whimsical painted portrait of Leonard Cohen, the poet, singer and one time resident of this hotel. When I got off the elevator to go to my room I encountered a bearded man dressed like a monk, talking animatedly on his cell phone like he was cutting a real estate deal or something. My friend, who I was visiting with, ran into an Englishman whose paintings grace the lobby of the hotel. He said he is from London, and decided to check in if for a year—15 years ago! I think if I checked in 15 years ago I might have had the same fate.

I was reading in The New York Times about a new documentary film about Patti Smith “Patti Smith: Dream of Life.” Smith was a denizen of the Chelsea in the 60s and 70s. According to the Times Smith has a new book out as well:

“Ms. Smith will visit bookstores around the country in support of “Just Kids” an autobiographical account of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, her close friend and fellow inhabitant of the Chelsea Hotel in the late 1960s and 70s.” Smith, a poet, and a singer, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 for her achievements, most notably for her classic debut album “Horses.”

Getting back to the title: “A Walker in the City,” walking through the streets of Somerville, Mass, as well as New York is a great way to clear your head, and since I was walking in the aftermath of the storm—the winds gave me a cold slap in the face—a freezing sucker punch—as if to say “Wake up, pal!...and take it all in.”

After checking out of the Chelsea and checking into my brother’s place down the block, I walked down to Cornelia Street in the Village for the reading. I passed a hair salon where a young guy was gesturing and swearing in Italian at a hairdresser, who had her hands on her ample hips, and was staring him down with an “I dare you” kind of expression. I went into a gourmet shop on Bleeker St. and a girl with a moose hat, requisite horns, and six rings planted in her collagen- infused lips, tried to sell me an overpriced container of nuts for a ten-spot She must of thought I was nuts.

I had a drink at a bar on in the village near the cafe and listened to a gaggle of NYU student’s chatter, while observing the shapely contours of the barmaid in her tight jeans. I saw a long-in-the-tooth rock band being photographed in front of Chelsea Guitars; their ruined, handsome faces spoke loudly in the late afternoon winter light of countless gigs, the road, the booze, and all-you-can-eat buffets of drugs.

A few hardy souls made it to the reading. The reading was for Larissa Shmailo's new collection of poetry, In Paran. Unfortunately she was ill and so we carried on. I ran into a poet friend of mine and City University professor Linda Lerner. The prolific Bronx poet Angelo Verga hosted the event, and the writer Iris Schwartz, Bob Viscusi, and others read from their work. There were a number of academic types from Brooklyn College and Hofstra University. They were amazed that I came down from Boston, in spite of the storm. I said their storm was a mere spritz in Somerville, and besides I needed the walk.

---Doug Holder


  1. susan tepper11:52 AM

    Doug you can make a blizzard sound glamorous! Sorry to have missed the reading, I guess I am a snow-whimp...

  2. Rene Schwiesow1:05 PM

    Enjoyed. . .great area. . .Cornelia and Bleeker. . .and sounds like a great reading!